Art of Citizenship

Civic:  relating to the duties or activities of people in relation to their town, city, or local area.

It’s like history:  people think of history as these broad narratives usually of, by, and for white men.  Digression.  Back in March 2018, the Hoover Institution (on War, Revolution, and Peace) sponsored a conference on “Applied History.”  Thirty male historians, one female historian, ALL white, ALL associated with American institutions.  Not having been there, I couldn’t tell you what “Applied History” actually means; my knee-jerk reaction is to wonder whether anyone talked about the use and misuse of history by policymakers, or whether this was just a bunch of white Americans telling policymakers what they should be doing on a national and international basis.

What do people mean by civic?

Yesterday, a very young and lost boxer followed me for a mile.  I went back to my Airbnb and not knowing what to do, asked my host to help me.  She cut me off:  “The dog needs to go back on the street, he can’t be here, and I can’t help you.”  After the initial panic, I realized that I can in fact take care of the problem.  I called the local no-kill shelter, they referred me to Animal Control, and I sat with the dog until the officer showed up thirty  minutes later.  He assured me the dog would be scanned for microchip information, held for 24 hours to wait for owner, then taken to the no-kill shelter.  Today, I have a “civic” survey in my inbox, asking me what I think civic means.  Based on the choices on page one, civic would seem to mean citizen action of the obvious sort recognizable by the general public:  voting, demonstrating, petitioning.  Yesterday, DH and some neighbors sent out postcards to registered voters encouraging them to vote in the upcoming midterm elections.  Yesterday, I rescued a friendly young dog with no common sense.  Yesterday, I found out my Airbnb host, who has a full life as a feminist/Democrat/community activist, did not see my action as a civic one.

I must admit that I was tempted to ignore the dog . . .  but he was so obviously lost and clueless.  A couple of local neighbors helped figure out that the dog belongs to a family not far from where I am staying, his name is Bruno, and he is quite young (about 5 months old).  I am hopeful his family picked him up from Animal Control last night.

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On my last morning in Santa Fe, I found this heart hanging on a fence outside a Canyon Road art gallery.  I am indeed grateful that I am lucky enough to live in a country where civic action — or inaction — is (still) a choice and a right.

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Mysterious Salt Lake City

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This was the reunion weekend, but I had other things I wanted to do.

Decades ago, DH and I heard about the Gilgal Sculptural Garden, a place of visionary bizarreness conceived and built by a devout Mormon by the name of Thomas Battersby Child, Jr.

Thomas Battersby Child, Jr.

Thomas Battersby Child, Jr., 1888-1963

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Back then the garden was still private property, though the owners were not sure what to do with it.  People knew about the garden: if they were polite, they visited on the one day a week the garden was officially open.  Perhaps more often they trespassed, on the theory that they “weren’t doing any harm.”  The garden is now an official city park, but mostly taken care of by volunteers gardeners and the non-profit Friends of Gilgal Garden.  People still trespass, some still vandalize, and a fair number of visitors still think they “do no harm” by climbing on the sculptures for their fun snapshots.

Perhaps the most famous sculpture is the Joseph Smith sphinx:

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Speculations?

Well, at the center of Mormon belief is a connection to ancient Egypt civilization and its writing system (Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Abraham from a papyrus scroll he obtained in 1835).  Joseph Smith was also a Freemason, and according to scholars, the “Old Charges” (Freemason origin documents) claim lineage from Egypt as the birthplace of the art of masonry (or mystery).

So . . . .  Was Mr. Child a Freemason as well as a mason?  It was a moment of idle curiosity on my part as I made my way around the garden and saw the carved quotation:  “After me cometh a Builder.  Tell him I too have known.”  The line is from The Palace, a poem by Rudyard Kipling published in 1902.  And Rudyard Kipling was a Freemason.  In the poem, he used the language and imagery of Freemasonry — and masonry — to explore his feelings about his place in the community of artists past and present.  As I said, a moment of idle curiosity . . . .  It is enough that Thomas Battersby Child had his visions, and was brave enough to set those visions in stone for posterity.

Bucket List: Going-to-the-Sun Road

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Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park

Many years ago I worked for the National Park Service as a summer historian on a HABS/HAER project in New York City.  When we were finished, the project leader gave me a signed copy of  America’s National Park Roads and Parkways:  Drawings from the Historic American Engineering Record  (Timothy Davis, Todd A. Croteau, Christopher H. Marston, and Eric DeLony).  It is a beautiful book, full of detailed drawings and plans for some of the most amazing engineering projects anywhere in America.  Over the years, DH would lift the book out every now and then and peruse the drawings.  Someday, we would visit Glacier National Park, and in particular, go on the Going-to-the-Sun Road (his bucket list).  I always assumed it would be in a car.

A week ago, on the last day of our seven-day Tandem Bicycle Tour of Glacier National Park, we rode 43 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Bucket list indeed!  We were on the road by 7:30 AM on a cool clear morning, and 2.5 hours later (it was uphill and we are slow!) we made it to Logan Pass.  The parking lot was packed, and a very friendly motorcyclist took us under his wings and offered to let us park the tandem by his motorcycle, on the theory that the only difference between our two wheels and his two wheels was the engine :-))  But then we spotted the bike racks, so we didn’t need him to keep an eye on the Chipmunkmobile after all.  After the requisite Logan Pass/Continental Divide photographs, we began the spectacular 45-minute descent.  I do not have a head for heights at the best of times, and I was gripping the handlebars so tightly my fingers were cramping.  But the scenery!!  A couple of drivers ignored the 25 MPH speed limit on a very narrow and twisty road and passed us; one did it so that he could zip over to the very next lookout point, a couple of hundred yards down the road, to take that Special Picture . . . .

I don’t think I can tour the Going-to-the-Sun Road in a car, ever.  I saw it from a bike, the ride was a challenge, and it was perfect.

And now, I have bike jersey envy:

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Going-to-the-Sun bike jersey, from Glacier Cyclery.

Road Trip: Golden, Colorado

DH has been preparing for this bucket list ride for months (or arguably, for years).  This was his year for the 2017 Triple Bypass cycling event . . . and it was cancelled.  But for the ride, we would not have been in Golden — not that we would NEVER have gone there, but we have lived in Colorado 24 years and never even driven through the city.

We loved our short visit:

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Not named after gold, but after early prospector Thomas Golden.

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On the campus of Colorado School of Mines. No donkeys, no mining …

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The one-room Guy Hill schoolhouse at Clear Creek History Park, with the mountainside “M” (for Colorado School of Mines).

DH still went for a 64-mile ride:

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The city, from Lookout Mountain.

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A denizen of Lookout Mountain.

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Juniper Pass

Other fun things:

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A much-modified late-19th century house . . . .

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. . . . with a modern shed-roofed addition around the corner to the rear . . . .

and, wait for it:

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. . . . a set of row houses attached to the other side of the original house.

Sigh.   But what fun would it have been if I couldn’t laugh at some atrocious renovations?

Fixer Upper: When It Goes Wrong

HGTV is my go-to station while running on the treadmill, and my favorite show is probably Fixer Upper, starring America’s sweetheart couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines.  I don’t know when that couple sleeps, especially Joanna:  wife, mother, baker, designer, blogger.  I hope they really are as nice as they appear on the show; I would hate for them to implode the way the Flip or Flop couple did.

Anyway.  Joanna Gaines has great taste; I may not always like her design choices, but I can also see that other people do, and I can admire without wanting my house to look like her staged houses.  But then there is the Chapman House:

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Credit: Rachel Whyte, from HGTV.com/shows/fixer-upper/a-first-home-for-avid-dog-lovers-pictures

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Photo credit: Jennifer Boomer/Getty Images, from HGTV.com/shows/fixer-upper/a-first-home-for-avid-dog-lovers-pictures

The original house was a ranch style house with an atrocious second-story addition …  not much you can do about it, but the exterior renovation on this part of the house looks good.

The porch, on the other hand … I am going to assume Joanna had a temporary blackout.  Why would she think a gigantic unpainted rustic porch more appropriate to a Colorado mountain cabin would be a good thing to tack on a mid-century ranch?  This is the sort of addition that on another HGTV show would be the first thing to be torn down.  I can think of different porch designs that she (or rather, an architect) could have added to the front to balance the house.  This is not it.

The Chapman House porch reminds me of another spectacularly bad renovation in my neighborhood:

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The Ski Jump House

This house is part of a post-war development where most of the houses were uninspiring Minimal Traditional style homes ranging from 800 – 1000 square feet.  The neighborhood is a bit run-down with most of the houses being student rentals, but that is probably changing just because of the ridiculous housing boom in the city.  The original house can still be seen, with new windows, new French doors, new stucco, and of course, the enormous ski jump masquerading as a porch.  This house has been a work-in-progress for a year; I wish they had stopped a year ago.   Or done something like this house, a block down the street, renovated with added square footage over the same time period:

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The owners kept the integrity of the original house, and respected the over all spirit of the post-war neighborhood.  Well done.

Anger Management

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January 20, 2017

Optimism, in front of a non-denominational, non-profit community coffee house.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe it.  Not only do I not believe it, I am not sure it is all that helpful right now.  But that is because I continue to be angry.

My word for the year is SHOULD:  it is an insidious, neither here-nor-there sort of word, it commits you to nothing.  I should work on my anger.

On Carnival Barker’s inauguration day, I cleared dog poop along the trail.  Now, I do trail cleanup pretty much every day (my personal — if tiny — commitment to the environment), but it seemed especially appropriate that day.  It also seemed like there were even more piles than usual.  As I said, inauguration day.  And for a couple of hours, I did something more useful to me than inadequate messages of optimism:  I worked on my anger.

Argumentation of Historians

The collective noun for a group of historians is an “argumentation.”  No kidding!  So, what could be more fun than hanging out with a bunch of doctors?   That’s right, hanging out with an argumentation of historians.  And there are an awful lot of very smart people doing seriously good work — as historian Hugh Trevor-Roper once said, “. . . history that is not controversial is dead history.”  And he of course was no stranger to controversy.

The 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association is in Denver, and I (via public transportation no less!) managed to attend a few sessions.  No question medical conferences are better managed, and the really good ones are quite efficient at getting the latest information out to the maximum number of people in well-organized chunks. History conferences, on the other hand, are somewhat nebulous.  The AHA does its best, but when 25 sessions are running concurrently in each time slot, it is difficult not to feel that you are missing out.  Because of course you are missing out, probably on a brilliant talk in the next meeting room.

At the presentation level, I would argue that doctors in general make better speakers.  Different material, certainly, but some skills are universal:  speak clearly, and please emphasize your key points.  I sat in on a session titled “Doing Indigenous History,” and I am sure I would have learned more had I been able to understand the speakers better:  (1) slow down and enunciate (preferably into the mic); (2) do not speak as though everything were an aside; (3) do not slide into vocal fry or inflect your sentences into questions unless you really are from Down Under (Angel Hinzo, you are doing important research, but you sounded like a teenage girl and not a serious scholar when you phrase your findings as questions, because that unconscious upward inflection undermines your academic authority); (4) and please please please observe the niceties and remove your hat (Jordan Lee Craddick, the hat may be your “thing,” but seriously, at a conference presentation?)

I pick on Craddick and Hinzo because I have high hopes for them.  Both of them are at the beginning of their career, and I think they can learn a thing or two from their panel moderator Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, a historian who has been around for awhile and who knows a thing or two about being authoritative.  In the meantime, I think Craddick and Hinzo are both going to do interesting things, and I look forward to them making controversy and keeping American history challenging.

On a different subject:

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I wonder if anyone else (that would be any other historian) were bothered by the apostrophe abuse.  Clearly whoever authorized the signs at the Colorado Convention Center never bothered to learn the rules.  As DH would say, my personal windmills . . .